A Lesson in Contentment – Overcoming Jealousy7 min read
The words “emulations” and “envy” are strong words in the Greek. “Emulations” (that is, jealousy) is from the word zelos, denoting passionate desire or zeal toward the possession of something. The word for envy is phthonos, and it is used for instance in Matthew 27:18 – “For [Pilate] knew that for envy they had delivered Him.” Strongs in its definition has “ill will” as one connotation. Basically, we could look at these things as expressing passionate desire resulting from that which appeals to the flesh. These things can be toward things (which would be covetousness) or toward people. However we define them, they correspond to the level of contentment we have in our lives. This is the real issue. Throughout the article, we will use “covetousness,” “jealousy,” and “envy” interchangeably, each denoting that unsatisfied condition of the heart.
The Cost of Coveting
Solomon was easily both the wisest man and the richest man in history, yet he says “He that loves silver will not be satisfied with silver, and he that loves abundance with increase: this also is vanity.” (Ecc. 5:10). He had lived a great deal of his life pursuing pleasure and riches, yet he could only cry “Vanity! Vanity! Vanity!” A life lived pursuing riches may yield those riches, but what then? Consider the cost of coveting:
- Proverbs 28:20 – “A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” It is not that the man sins in having money, but if riches are his supreme goal and his desire is to have those riches somewhat quickly, then surely he will resort to wicked means that he might achieve his goal. Scripture declares the love of money to be “a root of all evil,” because a man will spare no morality in his search for riches. The more he gains, the more he is unsatisfied. The more he is unsatisfied, the more extreme will his measures be in order to achieve some level of fulfillment. Contentment is directly proportional to the holiness in one’s life.
- Proverbs 28:22 – “He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.” In the immediate sense of the verse, we know that it is entirely possible for a man to lose his entire fortune in one day. This can happen in a stock market crash, for instance. But in another sense, poverty can be outside the sphere of money. One can be impoverish toward God, bearing no fruit. One can be deprived in terms of relationships: the number one cause of divorce is money. And if divorce is not the case, assembly and family relations can be strained also. One can also be poor in Heavenly treasure: what a tragedy!
- First Timothy 6:10 – “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Truly the greatest poverty is to err from the faith. Of course, when this is the case, men often prove that they were only ever hypocrites when professing Christianity. They were pleased to fake their profession – until their covetousness revealed the true heart of these men. Though this is a characteristic of the false, it is true that many a genuine believer has pierced himself through with sorrow because of their losing sight of what true value is. True value is being with God’s people. True value is studying God’s Word. True value is worship. We lose these things through covetousness.
The Conduct of Contented Christians
Christianity in its very nature is to be marked by contented Christians. To be inwardly dissatisfied because of desire to that which the flesh prefers is to say that what we have been brought into is not enough. How dare we preach a gospel of living water when we seem to still be thirsty! Oh, let us be a satisfied people. But what would that look like? What exactly is Christian contentment?
Firstly, it is a satisfied state of mind in spite of life’s circumstances. The key to Christian contentment is a focus away from the world and present circumstances. Let’s be honest: we will be deprived of much convenience in most episodes, if not eras, of life. The Lord Jesus promised persecution in Matthew 5. In addition, Paul suffered shipwreck, beating, prison, betrayal, grief, and eventually martyrdom. Why? It was not because of God’s punishing him, rather because of Paul’s faithfulness. Regardless of our upbringing or culture, life will readily and consistantly change. Surely satisfaction cannot be based on circumstances. No amount of jealousy or prayer will bring us to the utopia of life. Should we then live in misery because we are not yet in glory? By no means, because circumstances are not our standard.
On the contrary, we have a Heavenly standard, which we should be content in light of. Let us not think for a moment that we are missing out, because we are “deprived” of the world’s things. Certainly we are not deprived when we are in Christ! Do we not have “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”? Do we not have boldness to enter before the throne of grace? Do we not have the privilege of fellowship with God’s own people? Do we not have forgiveness, and with great thankfulness, salvation from Hell? Oh, dear believer, we are living the extravagant life! We may not have cause to be content because of life’s circumstances, but our cause certainly is in what we have through Christ.
The Christ of Contentment
But let’s go further than what we have in Christ, for a moment. We have Christ Himself. It is by Him that living waters flow. In the words of the psalmist “the river of God is full of water” (Ps. 65). And in the words of the Hebrew writer “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me… Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” (Heb. 13:5-6,8). If any should struggle with jealousy, envy, or covetousness, his most profitable response would be to examine his appreciation of Christ. Let us be content, not only because what He gives is with us, but because He Himself is with us. Dear friend, what does Christ mean to you? Can you claim these words as your own? “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul panteth after Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” We would certainly be content with the all-sufficient Creator as our standard of fulfillment. So then, search for Him until there is nothing left in you to search with. Consider His cross! Consider His glory! Consider Him even as a humble babe, yet still upholding all things by the Word of His power. Let us spend our lives learning more and more of our Beloved, for “He is altogether lovely.” There has never been a truly worshiping man with issues of covetousness. “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord which exercises lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” Is it enough to you that you know Him?
“He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” — (1 Timothy 6:4-11)